Snacking with a Purpose

Consumers seek grab-and- go foods that offer specific nutritional attributes.

7 nutritious snack ideas


Consumers are reading ingredient labels closely and are often seeking out products with specific nutritional benefits, such as high protein or high fiber, or products that are free from specific ingredients, such as dairy, gluten and other allergens. Consumers also continue to seek out snacks which conform to specific dietary regimens, such as paleo or ketogenic.

Here are seven on-trend, nutritious snack offerings:

Ready-to-eat popcorn

Ready-to- eat popcorn

A high fiber, low calorie (if prepared properly) snack that can be flavored in a variety of ways to keep things interesting.

Roasted seaweed

Roasted seaweed

Natural foods retailer Whole Foods Market predicted dried kelp would be among this year’s hot food trends, and some reports indicate that kelp and other nutrient-rich seaweed varieties could be the “next kale.”

Clean trail mix

Clean trail mix

When formulated without excess additives, such as sugar, trail mix can provide a tasty and nutritious combination of protein and fiber from nuts, berries and other ingredients.

Gluten-free crackers

Gluten-free crackers

Made with whole grain rice flour, soy flour, almond flour or other celiac-friendly ingredients, gluten-free crackers provide convenient, grab-and- go snack options for those seeking to avoid gluten in their diets.

Alternative jerky

Alternative jerky

An increasing number of vegan jerky products are emerging, alongside new flavor variations of more traditional, high protein meat jerky products.

Vegetable chips

Vegetable chips

Veggie chips made with carrots, sweet potatoes or beets can be a flavorful and nutritious alternative to traditional potato chips.

Roasted chickpeas

Roasted chickpeas

A crunchy alternative snack for consumers with nut allergies — chickpeas can also be flavored with spices such as cayenne pepper.

As consumers increasingly nosh throughout the day, they are demanding convenient snacking solutions that satisfy their discerning palates as well as their nutritional needs.

Snacking now accounts for 50 percent of all consumer eating occasions, according to the Future of Snacking 2016 report from The Hartman Group, and 91 percent of consumers say they snack multiple times throughout the day.

“Consumers tell us that snacking is essential to daily nutrition,” says Laurie Demeritt, Hartman Group chief executive.

She describes a “confluence of cultural shifts” which has led to the prominence of snacking in today’s culture, including the erosion of food rituals related to the nuclear family, rapidly changing wellness and cultural trends, and increasing access to a broad range of diverse food and beverage products.

While snacking often can be an impulsive response to hunger, it is increasingly done to support wellness goals, says Demeritt. These goals can include replacing or supplementing the nutrition provided by more traditional meals, a philosophy of moderation and dietary balance, and consumption of specific ingredients to control health conditions.

“As consumers manage a customized approach to eating through their snack choices, they negotiate their own sense of balance between desires for nourishment, optimization and pleasure in their daily choices,” says Demeritt.

Consumer interest in the nutritional attributes of snacks is playing out in the foodservice industry, as operators expand their offerings of healthful, grab-and-go items.

“Restaurants, bars, school and corporate cafeterias, and QSRs [quick service restaurants] are not only starting to expand their retail presence, but these operators are becoming more aware of the products they are offering,” says Ryan Meczyk, founder and chief executive of Norman Distribution, an Elk Grove, Illinois-based distributor of better-for- you snacks, beverages and grocery products which supplies multiple channels throughout the Midwest. “Consumers are becoming smarter about what they consume, and operators need to keep up with the demand for better-for- you alternatives.”

Trends in the specific attributes which consumers seek from better-for- you, grab-and-go snacks have been somewhat unpredictable, he says. But demand has definitely increased in the last few years as foodservice operators have expanded their assortments of retail offerings in the checkout area.

“Consumers continue to look for healthier options and cleaner ingredients, whether it be gluten-free, organic, all-natural or non-GMO,” says Meczyk.

Protein, fiber and whole grains

Among the biggest trends throughout the food industry, including the snack category has been consumer interest in proteins, fiber and whole grains.

In fact, a September 2016 report from research firm Mintel found that those were the three most sought after ingredients when consumers were purchasing healthy foods, “well ahead of other ingredients.” The report, called “Better-for- you Eating Trends,” found that 63 percent of health-minded consumers were interested in protein, 61 percent in fiber and 57 percent in whole grains.

The Whole Grains Council, citing research from Datassential, reports that the term “whole grain” appeared on 45 percent more restaurant menus than it did four years ago. Ancient grains in particular have grown in popularity, led by quinoa, according to Datassential’s 2016 Trending Grains Report.

Ancient grains can be good sources of both protein and fiber. As consumers increasingly look to plant-based sources of nutrition, grains such as sorghum, Kamut (khorasan wheat), amaranth, millet and bulgur are being used in more recipes, the report found.

Consumers are also increasingly interested in other plant-based proteins, including those that come from legumes, nuts and seeds.

Free-from foods

Perhaps just as important as what a snack food contains is what it does not contain. “Clean labels” with a few or no artificial ingredients, and products that are “free from” specific ingredients continue to be of significant importance to consumers.

Research firm Euromonitor International recently cited “free-from” foods — which include allergen- and dairy-free products in addition to gluten-free — as a top global trend in health and wellness.

Sales of free-from products increased 7 percent in 2016, to $32 billion, the company reported in February.

“Growth in organic and free-from food sales has boomed in 2016 as consumers are reading labels more carefully than ever, seeking natural ingredients and looking for foods which represent a ‘guilt-free’ purchase,” says Ewa Hudson, head of health and wellness at Euromonitor International. “The increasing demand for lactose-free and hypoallergenic options within foods and beverages has contributed to the growth of free-from, which is set to generate an additional $9.5 billion in sales by 2021.”

Growing consumer interest in gluten-free offerings has prompted some noncommercial foodservice operators to make accommodations for their customers.

At Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, for example, the school last year opened a gluten-free concession stand at the LaVell Edwards Stadium, home of the Cougars football team. The offerings included not only gluten-free pizza, hot dogs and barbecue pork sandwiches, but also gluten-free grab-and- go snacks, such as brownies specially made on campus, cookies and potato chips.

Kelley Williams, the office manager for BYU Dining Services, who suffers from celiac disease and helped design the gluten-free outlet, says the station was a success and turned a profit in its first year.